Tech by VICE

The 'Real' Dark Web Doesn't Exist

Human trafficking? Murder? The darkest sites on the dark web have turned out to be fake.

by Joseph Cox
Aug 31 2015, 7:19pm

Photo: Sheila Sund/Flickr

"How do you really go deeper?" one Reddit thread posted days ago starts.

"I'm trying to find the weirdest part of the deep web," another says.

"There are some things people talk about and I believe but want to see for myself," another user wrote recently, "but I can never find anything."

These posts were written by users desperately looking for murder, terrorism, human experiments, torture, and trafficking—things that they've heard are buried in the dark web, and are sure will be revealed if they just keep digging hard enough.

Any day of the week, posts like this populate forums and social media. But unfortunately for thrill-seekers, almost all the sites purporting to offer this type of content far have turned out to be fake, be that live streams of torture, hitmen for hire, or human trafficking.

Over the weekend, journalist and author of a book on the Silk Road drug marketplace Eileen Ormsby documented the emergence of a "red room" site; a site claiming to livestream torture and murder.

Red rooms are a persistent rumour on the dark web, but so far have seemed to be nothing more than urban legend.

In this case, the event was supposedly going to involve several captured Islamic State members.

Excited revelers on 4Chan and Reddit hyped up the launch of the stream, which would happen at midnight on Friday, and the site owner's promised, humorously, "there would be bacon."

Sites like these, for a brief moment, let us think we've stumbled on a truly hidden part of the internet

The stream was not presented. Instead a banal, 21 minutes long video was uploaded, according to Ormsby. In the end, it was a troll, albeit one that required a fair amount of effort to pull off.

Another example was an apparent human trafficking site that Motherboard recently profiled. It too was later revealed as an elaborate hoax, designed to steal potential customers' bitcoins. Although the motive of that site was likely financial, the scammers couldn't hope to draw in any customers if there weren't the constant rumours about the trade of humans existing on the dark web.

It is understandable why people latch onto these sites, and ferociously dig to find others. Sites like these, for a brief moment, let us think we've stumbled on a truly hidden part of the internet: something that nobody has seen before; something that nobody was supposed to see. When, instead, the sites are likely scraped together by bored netizens, or those looking to make a quick payday.

In reality, the dark web is a relatively tiny collection of difficult-to-reach sites, that, for criminals, deal in drugs, weapons, stolen data, and child pornography. On the brighter side, are sites for dropping sensitive documents to journalists, and that page that just endlessly tells cat jokes.

In fact, the desire for nonexistent "darker" sites reveal the most about those hunting for them. If violent child pornography is not "dark" enough for you, perhaps no one can provide whatever it is you're looking for. And besides, the normal internet already hosts loads of child porn, and is where human trafficking definitely takes place.

As long as people are obsessed with finding the next terrible thing on the dark web, these scam and troll sites are going to continue—feeding the exaggerated myth of what ultimately boils down to just a small collection of websites.